Claire Voyant's Las Vegas Gossip Column

Displaying keen perception and great insight.  
She's a little bit naughty. She’s a little bit nice.  
She calls ‘em like she sees (and hears) ‘em.  

Claire Voyant  

Note: This is a past column from February 02, 2007
You can find the current column HERE

Las Vegas - February 2, 2007

If you are going to be anywhere around Newark on Saturday, February 10th, check out Eric Michael Gillett's latest solo show, the cleverly named Hook Line & Singer, at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. Eric, a former Las Vegan who has been mentioned in this column before (and, more than likely, will be mentioned here again), will soon be seen in the new film, My Brother, starring Vanessa Williams (who performed in Vegas at The Orleans last November). The onetime Ringmaster for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus will cover actor Mark Jacoby as Major-General Stanley in Gilbert & Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance, playing at the New York City Opera, from March 3rd through 31st. You can also catch Eric in a featured role in the Business Pitch episode of's series, Good God. In other words, he's a busy boy.

And another talented and musical Eric, this one Eric Comstock, can be found sitting at the piano and singing the works of composer Charles Strouse, as part of his Manhattan Masters series. Strouse, who wrote the music for Annie (Tomorrow, You‘re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile), Applause (Good Friends, Think How It‘s Gonna Be), Bye Bye Birdie (Put On a Happy Face, Kids, One Last Kiss) and Golden Boy (This Is the Life, I Want To Be With You, a hit recording for Steve Lawrence). Catch Mr. Comstock's tribute to Charles Strouse, this Sunday (the 4th) and Monday (the 5th), at the Metropolitan Room at 34 West 22nd Street in the Big Apple. Mr. Strouse will join Eric, and his fellow musicians, for a few tunes on Sunday. During the rest of February, the Manhattan Masters series will continue on Sundays and Mondays. On the 11th and 12th, Yip Harburg will be honored. The 18th and 19th, it's Jule Styne's music, and on the 25th and 26th, Comstock and friends will perform Saloon Songs. Shows start at 7:00 p.m.

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Friends will gather at The Orleans Hotel, NOT the Tropicana as published elsewhere, on Sunday, February 11, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. where they will Celebrate the Life of Terry Lovern. Terry, who served as Theater Production Manager at the Stardust for the last 17 years of his life, passed away on December 30 following a valiant two-year battle with cancer. He was only 61. A onetime ice skater and Lido de Paris dancer, Lovern was instrumental in giving life to the once struggling Las Vegas Civic Ballet and more recently worked diligently to put together last September's cast and crew reunion at the Stardust. About 700 former Lido, Enter the Night and Havana Night Club performers, as well as cast members of many other Las Vegas shows, and folks who just wanted to bid adieu to the 48-year-old property, turned out to reunite with many old friends and share decades of memories. Because Terry's favorite holiday was Valentine's Day, the mid-February gathering will take on an even more special meaning. Michael Ashton, Terry's longtime companion, requests that attendees wear fancy party finery and, if at all possible, make it red.

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It was shocking to learn that a priest from Our Lady of Las Vegas Catholic Church had assaulted a woman within the sanctuary of the church. It was even more shocking to learn that the victim was a longtime entertainer in our community. Michaelina Bellamy, a former principal singer/dancer in the Tropicana's Le Folies Bergere, was allegedly beaten by George Chaanine in the Friday, January 26th attack. Chaanine then fled, leading to a multi-state search that resulted in his arrest in Apache Junction, Arizona, outside of Phoenix, yesterday (February 1st). Bellamy, in fear for her life, has been in hiding since being released from the hospital. What we find most surprising about the media coverage of this crime is the fact that the victim of a sexual assault was identified by name. In addition, many images, both still photos and/or videos, were shown in print and on television. This is most unusual.

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Thanks to 1977 Miss America competitor, Sandy Kastel, Cousin Claire was able to attend the final night of the 86-year-old pageant, or as host Mario Lopez called it, "The longest reality show on television." It was exciting to see the live workings of the pageant and the enthusiasm displayed by the audience as they cheered on their home-state representative. The newly refurbished Theater for the Performing Arts, at the still morphing from Aladdin to Planet Hollywood hotel/casino (identified only as Planet Hollywood throughout the broadcast), made a great showcase for the American beauties. The judges for the evening were actress/director/choreographer Debbie Allen; America‘s Next Top Model photographer, Nigel Baker (a favorite of the young ladies in the audience); singer/pianist/cabaret artist, Michael Feinstein (a favorite of Cousin Claire's); TV personality/ journalist, Chris Matthews; and 1981's Miss America, Susan Powell. We were told that Designing Woman, Delta Burke, who had been scheduled to be a judge, was taken ill and hospitalized in Las Vegas. As you know if you watched the CMT telecast, the winner, for the second year in a row, was Miss Oklahoma. We felt that the new Miss America, aspiring Broadway star, 20-year-old Lauren Nelson, along with the other top four competitors, displayed exceptional talent as they danced, played piano and sang their way to earning very enthusiastic applause from the spectators.

While cruising the Aladdin/Planet Hollywood's Desert Passage shopping mall after the pageant, we checked out the much ballyhooed Steve Wyrick theater. After about a four month delay, the facility is finally open. It was extremely quiet over there. The only people we saw were anxious looking employees (can we say Maytag repairman?). When questioned, they indicated that ventriloquist Ronn Lucas would be opening tomorrow, Saturday, February 3rd. When magician Wyrick will open is anybody's guess. And what about top Filipino pop singing star Martin Nievera? Stay tuned.

Michaelina Bellamy Sandy Kastel Robert Goulet

As for Sandy Kastel, although the singer/dancer/songwriter didn't come away with the title of Miss America (Dorothy Benham was the winner in 1977), she did win both Miss Las Vegas and Miss Nevada titles prior to her journey to Atlantic City to compete against the other women from across the country. Sandy, who was featured in Pinups At The Movies, one of the most successful lounge revues in Vegas history, is getting ready to release her new CD. Called Luck Be a Lady, the 15 tracks pay tribute to many of the musical stars associated with Las Vegas. Included in the compilation, songs made famous by performers Robert Goulet, Julie London, Peggy Lee, Nat "King" Cole, Dean Martin, Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin and Wayne Newton, among others. On the first listen, Cousin Claire especially liked Cry Me a River, Everybody Loves Somebody, Beyond the Sea, Don't Rain On My Parade, My Funny Valentine, Strangers In the Night and the title track. The lady is not only pretty, but talented as well.

And speaking of Robert Goulet, look for his clever new TV commercial for Emerald Nuts to debut during this Sunday's Super Bowl. A few years ago, the Las Vegas resident was also featured in some clever spots for Mercedes-Benz. Goulet, as a policeWOMAN in a skirt, could give David Hasselhoff's Roger DeBris character in The Producers, a run for his money.

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When a fire alarm went off at the Suncoast just prior to Vicki Lawrence's show last Sunday (a malfunctioning smoke alarm), delaying her entrance, the lady had a great opening line. Forced to start about 15 minutes late, Ms. Lawrence/Mama suggested that at her age, it was probably a hot flash that set off the siren and strobe lights. According to friends who saw the performance, they were very entertained and told us that the onetime co-star of the Carol Burnett Show drew a genuine standing ovation at the end of her performance.

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Wouldn't you love to have this problem? On January 23rd, a gentleman playing the Wheel of Fortune machine at the Riviera Hotel and Casino won a progressive jackpot of $682,370.93. The lucky winner did not want his identity revealed. No wonder. If/when news like this leaks out, old school mates that you haven't seen in decades, family members that you hoped not to see in decades, and every charitable cause known and unknown to mankind will come a calling. The one "person" who will learn the name of the fortunate recipient is Uncle Sam. We would have loved to have been witness to all of the excitement that must have taken place when the winning symbols came up at 1:40 on that Tuesday afternoon.

On January 26th, 2000, we came very close to being present at the now-but-a-fading- memory Desert Inn (Wynn Las Vegas has taken its place on the famed Strip) when former Monte Carlo cocktail waitress Cynthia Jay-Brennan claimed what was then the largest Megabucks jackpot ever won, a whopping $35 million. On March 11th, Jay-Brennan and her sister were hit by a drunken driver, resulting in the death of her sister and paralyzing the lady who, only weeks earlier, had been on top of the world. Cousin Claire had the opportunity to meet and talk to this brave woman in November of 2004, and found her to be very friendly and communicative. What a difference a day (or a month) makes.

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If the weather had been reflective of Liz Renay's personality, it would have been bright and sunny on the day she was laid to rest. Instead, Wednesday, January 31st, was gray and cloudy. About 50 family members, friends and fans attended the graveside ceremony held at Edenvale Cemetery, a few blocks north of downtown Las Vegas, the city where the actress/artist/author had made her home for a number of years. In a case of irony, Liz Renay's newest great-great grandchild was born on the day of her interment.

Vicki Lawrence John Waters Tab Hunter

A letter from Liz's friend, John Waters who directed her in what may well be her most famous film, Desperate Living, was read to the people who gathered to celebrate the life of this one-of-a-kind woman. This is what Waters had to say…"Liz Renay was the happiest person I knew. No matter what life brought her she was cheerful, optimistic and did her best to feel glamorous no matter how mundane the daily world around her could be. Her loyalty sent her to prison and her beauty snagged her some bad husbands (‘I love a man in a shiny suit,' she once told me) but her great sense of humor elevated her to a special place in the hearts of friends and fans everywhere." Waters went on to say, "Liz was such a team player when we made ‘Desperate Living,' never complaining about the low budget or the long hours - even shrugging her shoulders and saying ‘sure' when I asked her if we could let live cockroaches crawl over her for a scene of shock horror. Liz loved being photographed, she loved being an exotic dancer and she loved exhibitionist Las Vegas. The world of Liz Renay was just like her notorious streaking adventure: fast, risqué, startling and filled with happy smiles. An amazingly prolific artist, witty writer and a cult star like no other, Liz Renay was beyond glamorous. I will miss her funny, warm hand-written letters, her gossipy but never mean phone calls and her continued joy at being sexy no matter how old she was. Rest in peace, Miss Renay. You were a lovely star right up to the end." Signed, John Waters.

Waters, the Baltimore-born campy filmmaker, is to blame for a collection of movies with titles that include Mondo Trasho, Lust In the Dust, Polyester, Cry Baby, Hairspray, Pink Flamingos, A Dirty Shame, Cecil B. DeMented and the Renay-starring Desperate Living. He is also responsible for creating or reviving the careers of a number of actors, among them, plus-size drag-queen Divine; former talk-show host, Ricki Lake; ‘50s teen heartthrobs, Tab Hunter and Troy Donahue; Joey Heatherton, Patricia Hearst, Mink Stole, Sonny Bono, Jerry Stiller, Pia Zadora, Deborah "Blondie" Harry, and even David Hasselhoff, the star of Paris Las Vegas' latest offering, The Producers.

Spectrum, the Motown/R&B tribute quartet, will perform with the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra on the 10th of this month. Spectrum, made up of Cushney Roberts, Darryl Grant, Pierre Jovan and David Prescott, joins an LBSO lineup that consists of top headlining acts such as Michael Crawford (appearing on March 10th), Marvin Hamlisch (March 24th) and Peter Cetera (June 2nd). Last month, the fellows performed songs such as My Girl, I Heard It Through the Grapevine, Stand By Me and Just My Imagination, along with other hits made famous by the Four Tops, Temptations, Platters, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles and even the Supremes, with the Jacksonville (Florida) Symphony Orchestra and, in May, they will be featured with the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra (on the 5th and 6th) and the San Antonio Symphony (the 18th through 20th). When not singing with the "Big Bands," the gentlemen can be enjoyed on a regular basis at the Hacienda in Boulder City and are frequently the entertainment on a number of cruise lines.

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Ooops. Every once in a while, even Cousin Claire makes a mistake. Last week we gave undeserved credit to Dick Feeney in a mention of American Superstars at the Stratosphere. Of course, anyone who is anyone knows that American Superstars is the baby of Mark Callas (yes, his father is comic Charlie Callas) and Donny Moore. Feeney, on the other hand, was the man behind Viva Las Vegas, the long running revue that closed at the Stratosphere last month. Feeney keeps quite busy with other projects, including the World's Greatest Magic Show and The Rat Pack Is Back!, both at the Greek Isles, the Flying Elvi skydiving act, and his young family.

And speaking of the Rat Pack, a traveling unit of the show, a tribute to Frank, Sammy, Joey and Dean, is at Harrah's in Atlantic City, through February 11th. The above mentioned Dick Feeney, in partnership with Sandy Hackett (yes, his father is comic Buddy Hackett), has done very well with the revue taking folks back to the good old days of Las Vegas. Sandy will portray Joey Bishop at Harrah's.

And speaking of Hacketts, Sandy and Lisa Dawn Miller's adorable daughter, Ashleigh Zayda Hackett, turned a year old on January 31st. We see a definite family resemblance and, viewing her recent photos, we think the little doll already has a love affair with the camera as the camera does with her. Lisa is the daughter of famed songwriter Ron Miller (Touch Me In the Morning, If I Could, For Once In My Life and I‘ve Never Been To Me, to name a few of his hits) and the mother of Oliver Richman. First-grader Oliver is well on his way to a show business career himself. This talented little gentleman all but stole the show from his talented parents in a family show at the Suncoast in December 2005. It's all in the genes, folks.

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The Las Vegas Academy of International Studies Performing & Visual Arts (Whoever came up with this tongue-twister of a name?) will present Miss Saigon on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights through the 17th of this month. This much-honored, award-winning high school has presented some very impressive productions since 1993 when it opened. We saw both Thoroughly Modern Millie and the musical version of Little Women, and were extremely impressed. What we saw was first rate and comparable to anything you would see on Broadway. It is hard to believe that all of this fine work - acting, orchestra, costumes, sets - is done by high-school age youngsters. More than 200 students will be involved with Miss Saigon, a modern day takeoff of Puccini's Madame Butterfly. A number of Las Vegas Academy graduates have gone on to careers in show business. Matt Gubler, currently a regular cast member on CBS's Criminal Minds, and Rutina Wesley, now appearing on Broadway, at the Music Box Theatre, in The Vertical Hour, are but two of the success stories emerging from this fine magnet school. All performances of Miss Saigon start at 7 p.m. in the Lowden Theatre for the Performing Arts, located at 9th Street and Clark Avenue, in downtown Las Vegas. Tickets are priced at $18, and can be purchased at the school box office or by calling (800) 585-3737.

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Cousin Claire has a request for you dear readers. YOU know who you are, but she doesn't. She would like to know. Are you a Las Vegan? A regular Las Vegas visitor? Or, are you just someone interested in knowing what is going on in this city? Do you live in the United States? Another country? We would be very interested in knowing who reads this column and who checks these sites and would very much appreciate your taking a few minutes from your busy lives to let us know. You can respond via the Link at the bottom of this column. Thank you.

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Claire Voyant's portrait by Charlie Frye